Editorial: GSL affiliation is a failing of the Equality Act

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Credit: Creative Commons

Laurie Clarke
Editor

The SRC have been forced to affiliate anti-abortion society Glasgow Students for Life in a devastating end to the free speech debate that has been brewing since November. If this proves anything, it’s how adept GSL are at bullying people into decisions they don’t agree with.

You can find out more information here, but the salient points are that the GSL were denied SRC affiliation in December and threatened to sue for discrimination. The SRC stuck to their guns, but following legal consultation were delivered the crushing blow that anti-choice beliefs are actually a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. In other words, their hands were tied, and they had no choice but to affiliate.

Let’s think about that: anti-abortion sentiment is entitled to the same legal backing as sexual orientation, race, disability, and other aspects of identity that are often marginalised in society. It’s, in a word, ludicrous.

I’m sure GSL are lauding what they consider to be a triumph for free speech, but it’s a hollow – and hypocritical – victory. Without affiliation the society were still able to gather and hold events on campus; they were never facing, as The Herald gleefully claimed back in November, a ban. Nor were the student members, who were still able to access SRC support and resources such as The Advice Centre, and run for SRC elections, being discriminated against in any capacity. GSL’s free speech may have been protected by this legal-arm twisting, but it comes at the cost of the SRC’s own right to affiliate. Despite their own convictions and their responsibility to the majority of students on campus, the SRC have been forced to align themselves with a group actively involved in anti-abortion protests.

Ensuring the comfort and safety of students on campus was the priority of the SRC’s initial decision not to affiliate, which is in many ways akin to endorsement. SRC affiliation entitles societies to apply for SRC funding and use SRC promotional materials, so now that GSL are applicable, it’s worth considering the associations the SRC have been exposed to. So what opportunities are GSL bringing to campus as a newly-affiliated society?

Right now, GSL has such socials on offer as 40 Days for Life, a “peaceful vigil” outside Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Govan, in connection with an international Christian movement. According to their website, they’ve “saved” 115 lives since March 6, a disturbing and nebulous statistic to be sure. Activities include prayer and fasting for “abortion-vulnerable women” and “innocent children who are at risk of perishing”, and 40 Days hope that “this will mark the beginning of the end of abortion in our city — and beyond.” Best of luck, gang!

Next on the agenda is a coach trip to London for March for Life UK’s Lifefest 2019, which sounds a bit like one of those shit Christian music festivals but is probably worse. For the avoidance of doubt, March for Life UK fly under the banner “life from conception – no exception”, confirming that fun rhyming chants are probably best left to pride parades.

That GSL have wormed their way into being considered an underdog is laughable, but I’d like to reiterate what current SRC President Lauren McDougall had to say regarding access to abortion. Make no mistake, access to safe, legal abortion is a human rights issue, as recognised by the UN, the World Health Organisation and Amnesty International. That the SRC’s right to choose who they affiliate with – and tacitly endorse – has been overthrown is a failing of the law which was created to protect individuals whose identities make them vulnerable to persecution and discrimination. Being anti-abortion is much like being a bit too into the gym or smoking weed: it’s not an identity, and you shouldn’t force that shit on other people. Anti-choice rhetoric isn’t the only platform that has gained protection under the Equality Act, however: causes such as Scottish Independence, veganism and environmentalism have also joined the ranks of beliefs that are considered on par with minority identities.

Ironically, freedom of speech is such a belaboured issue these days that it’s almost too boring to discuss. This legal complication, however, only furthers the belief of some that they have the right to say whatever they want without repercussions, and this is simply not the case. Nobody is claiming that an individual can’t be anti-abortion, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to enforce that view on other people. The danger here is that GSL, amongst others, are using their beliefs to lobby other people, and not content with that, they are twisting the arm of a charity to endorse them.

GSL may be a group of students, but they are also a mouthpiece for a bigger agenda, and they are not alone in their beliefs. They are not a minority, and they will never be the underdog.

For more information, read Georgina Hayes’ article “SRC is right not to affiliate anti-choice society”, which has been shortlisted for a Student Publication Association Human Rights Award.

You can also read about Glasgow students’ experiences of abortion in our Features piece, “Having an abortion at university”.